September 2007


Cubs going to the playoffs, probably against the D’Backs.  I think this team is the easiest to beat despite their record, and so I’m pretty happy.  A quick look at the playoff roster:

IN FO’ SHO’

Kendall

Lee

DeRosa

Theriot

Ramirez

Soriano

Jones

Floyd

Zambrano

Lilly

Hill

Marquis

Marmol

Howry

Demptster

Eyre

Wood

PROBABLY ON THE PLAYOFF ROSTER

Murton

Soto

Ward (is he injured?–if not, he’s “fo’ sho'”)

Wuertz

Pie

That’s 22 people.  The other three spots will most likely go to one reliever and two position players.  Who?  Well, the reliever will almost certainly be either Will Ohman, Sean Marshall, or Kevin Hart.  My vote goes to Hart, who has been fantastic so far (small sample size, I know), but I suspect the Cubs’ braintrust will not be inclined to have a rookie with 11 big league innings under his belt pitching in the playoffs.  That leaves Ohman and Marshall.  I think Marshall is far and away the better choice since he’s a) a better pitcher and b) can be used in long relief if and when some Cubs starter stinks it up.  As far as the position players, I think the spots should go to Mike Fontenot and either Craig Monroe or Sam Fuld, but I get the sick feeling that we may see Ronny Cedeño on the playoff roster since he’s the only real shortstop in the pool of available backups.  This reasoning is quite stupid, I think, but I fear it may be used.  Fuld would be a second pinch runner/defensive replacement, and Monroe would act as a pinch hitter or even a starting centerfielder against lefties.  I suspect Monroe will get the nod.

The D’Backs would certainly throw Webb in Game 1, probably followed by Doug Davis in Game 2 and Micah Owings in Game 3.  Once the rotations are set (and once it’s 100% that the Cubs will be facing the Snakes), I’ll have a series preview up.

Coming into this past series against the Marlins, I felt the same way I did last year when the Bears were going to play Arizona on Monday Night Football: irrationally scared. It turned out in both cases that my fear was warranted, though at least the Bears managed to come back and win in improbable fashion; the Cubs just lost. In football, they call those games “trap games,” but I’m not sure an equivalent term exists in baseball.

Luckily, the Brewers managed to gain only a game and half, losing to a depleted Cardinals team and the Padres. Ned Yost continues to be a moron, and Ryan Braun continues to cut into his offensive value by being a terrible defender, making three errors in last night’s game.

The magic number is thus 2. I doubt the Brewers will win the next three against Maddux, Young, and potentially Peavy, but they could very well win two. That means the Cubs might have to not get swept–yikes! I won’t go over the matchups, since most of the pitchers involved in the last series between these two teams are pitching again in this series, but I will remind all two of you that the Cubs will not have to contend with Griffey and Dunn. This is a huge break, especially for Zambrano. Gotta win one; two would be nice.

Barring a meltdown that would make 2004 look like a walk in the park, the Cubs are going to the playoffs. They absolutely obliterated the Pirates; it’s hard to believe that this is the same team that lost two of three to the Pirates in Pittsburgh just a couple weeks ago. They’ve decided that the best way to deal with the ups-and-downs of relying on the outcome of balls put in play is simply to hit the ball out of the park. A lot. It’s awesome to watch in and of itself, of course, and it’s also very gratifying given the power outage we’ve seen all season: this is what this season was supposed to be like the whole year. I expected Soriano, Ramirez, and Lee to combine for at least 100 homers. They probably won’t get to 85, but that’s a lot higher than it looked it’d get a couple of weeks ago. The bats have arrived, at long last, and the Cubs suddenly look every bit the offensive force the Brewers are, and with better pitching (both starting and relief) to boot.

Brewers fans are understandably upset. I was going to write some “eat it, Brewers fans!” crap, but you know what? I feel sorta bad for them. They’re not like Cardinals fans (and not just because they can read): they’ve waited a long time to see a halfway decent team, and it really looked for three and a half months like they were going to see their team play in the postseason.  I still don’t appreciate their small-market self-righteousness, but they got screwed out of the postseason due to some bad breaks (Ben Sheets’ injury) and terrible managing.  Still, I’m not gonna feel too bad.

The Cubs travel to Florida now to face the always-tough-on-the-Cubs Marlins.  The Marlins swept the Cubs back in May, and are playing for pride at this point.  Let’s look at the matchups:

Tuesday @ 6:05 CDT: Dontrelle Willis vs. Ted Lilly

Dontrelle has not been great against the Cubs in his career, posting a 3-3 record and a 4.60 ERA in eight starts.  This year, he’s faced the Cubs once, going seven innings and giving up four runs in a 9-4 Marlins win.  Cliff Floyd and Aramis Ramirez have struggled against Willis, but pretty much every other Cub hitter has hit him hard.  With the way the Cubs are swinging the bats lately, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Willis get knocked out early.  Unfortunately, the same may happen to Lilly.  The Bull Moose, as some call him, had a rough start against the Fish on May 30, surrendering six runs (five earned) in seven innings on three homers.  Miguel Olivo and Dan Uggla basically have hit home runs in every at-bat against Lilly.

Wednesday @ 6:05 CDT: Dan Barone vs. Jason Marquis

Dan Barone has never faced the Cubs.  He appears to suck.  This would have spelled certain doom for the Cubs earlier this year and in years past, but lately they’ve jumped all over young, struggling pitchers.  Marquis has faced the Marlins once this season and lost to Dontrelle Willis.  Most of the Marlins have great career numbers against him, so the Cubs might need to score a lot to win that game.

Thursday @ 3:05 CDT: Felon Olsen vs. Steve Trachsel

Assuming Scott Olsen doesn’t get arrested before Thursday, he’ll be making the start for the Marlins.  He hasn’t faced the Cubs this year, but he has made three starts against them in his career, earning no-decisions each time.  The current crop of Cubs haven’t him too well.  Trachsel sucks, but he has kept most of the Marlins’ hitter at bay during his career, with the exception of Miguel Cabrera and Hanley Ramirez.

The Cubs’ magic number is 4.  It’s tempting to argue that the Brewers will lose no less than two of their final seven, which means the Cubs need to only win two of their final six.  That argument would seem to indicate that the Cubs can afford to lose two of three to the Marlins, but I think considering the time ordering of wins and losses indicates otherwise.  The Brewers, you see, have a pretty good shot at sweeping the Pujols-less Cardinals.  Their biggest challenge is tonight against Wainwright; if they can win that game, they are in great position to sweep.  Let’s say they do, and let’s say the Cubs lose the first two games of the series to the Marlins.  That would mean that the Cubs would only be one up with four to go, with Trachsel taking the mound and homer-prone Rich Hill set to start the next game in a bandbox against a powerful Reds team.  Gulp.  This is, of course, the worst case scenario, but my point is that it’s not that unlikely, at least from the Brewers’ end of things.  If they lose tonight, then I think it’s really over; if they win, though, I think it forces the Cubs to win one of the first two games in Florida.  That would, at the least, keep the Brewers two back with four to play, and I like those numbers.

Now that the excitement from yesterday’s win has worn off, I am significantly less ready to face the Pirates.  Here are the matchups for this weekend:

Friday: Jason Marquis vs. Paul Maholm

Marquis is 2-1 with a 2.91 ERA against the Pirates this year, including a complete game shutout–one of only two Cubs games I’ve been to this year–in May.  His last start against them, however, was not so good.  Nate McLouth and Jason Bay kill Marquis; he’s been good against everyone else in that lineup.  Maholm, for his part, is 2-0 with a 5.02 ERA against the Cubs this year.  Lifetime, Maholm has had trouble with Ramirez and Soriano, but that’s it.  I refuse to predict any more games.

Saturday: Rich Hill vs. Zach Duke

Hill is 0-1 with a 5.54 ERA in two starts against the Pirates this year.  His last start against them on September 7th was a disaster.  A lot of Pirates have great career numbers against him; I don’t really feel like listing them here.  Zach Duke is 1000-0 with a o.00001 ERA against the Cubs.  Seriously, I don’t even want to see the numbers.  He kills the Cubs.  OK, I looked at the numbers.  He’s made seven career starts against the Cubs, and six have been quality starts.  His lifetime ERA against the Cubs is 1.57.

Sunday: Carlos Zambrano vs. Tom Gorzelanny

Zambrano is 1-2 with a 3.79 ERA against the Pirates this year.  His last start against them was a thing of beauty.  Sort of.  I refer you to my series preview from earlier this month for information on the Pirates’ hitters career numbers versus Z.  Tom Gorzelanny is 1-1 with a 1.29 ERA against the Cubs this year.  Great.

So here’s the deal: only one of these matchups favors the Cubs, and even that is pretty tenuous.  If the Cubs are going to win two of three (or three of three), they’re going to need to find a way to beat Duke, or Z is going to have to step up.  The good news is that the Brewers will probably split at best, so even losing two of three would leave the Cubs up a half game.  But that’s not the way to think about it: for all the Pirates starters’ success against the Cubs, only Gorzelanny is actually a good pitcher.  The Cubs need to beat the other two guys on Friday and Saturday, and then try for the sweep, knowing that if they fail they’ve still done their job in the series.

Cubs win two of three.  I heart Ted Lilly.  Ted Lilly: you are the man.

I can’t believe I’m saying that.

Let’s sweep the fucking Pirates.

I’ll save my Roy Oswalt rant for another day–basically, I think he’s one of many things that’s terribly wrong with this country–but I just wanted to alert any readers (there are, like, three of you) to the fact that Mr. Oswalt will not be making his scheduled start against the Brewers tonight.  He has another tractor to buy or some shit.

No, no, his wife is pregnant with his midget redneck spawn, so he’s going home to his survivalist camp house in the woods to be with her (and probably do some huntin’, too).  Luckily, Houston is placing the game in the capable hands of…Felipe Paulino!  Yay!  Ben Sheets will be starting for the Brewers unless he hurts his finger.  To sum up: the Cubs are effectively ahead by a half game, and Z better be good on three days’ rest.  I’d like to see him do what he did last time and use his sinker to induce ground balls.  It will save his arm, allowing him to go deeper into the game, and it’s gotta be easier to be a sinkerballer on three days’ rest than a power pitcher.  Just a thought.

Last night’s game: awesome.  That’s all.  Also, Rich Hill has gotten some bad breaks lately.  I know his BAbip against was like -2,000,000 early in the season, but he’s had two starts lately–last night and the start against Pittsburgh on September 7th–where the other team dinked and dunked their way on base.  Earlier in the year, it seemed like the only way teams could score against him was with the homer, but now they’re getting base hits.  You know what, though?  He keeps posting a K/9 rate of 8.56 and a BB/9 rate of 2.93, and he’s gonna be fine.  I think we’re gonna see some 3.50 ERA, 17 win seasons from Rich in the next few years.  I don’t think he’ll win a Cy Young, but he’s going to be one of the best #2s in the league.

Godspeed, Felipe Paulino.

The Cubs have the misfortune of playing six of their last 12 against the Reds, a team that has terrorized them the last couple years.  The first three games are this week at Wrigley; let’s a take a look at the pitching matchups:

Tonight: Rich Hill vs. Bronson/Brandon Arroyo

Rich is 1-0 against the Reds this year in two starts.  He’s pitched 12 innings, surrendering 2 earned runs on nine hits (one homer) and seven walks while striking out 13.  His lifetime numbers against the Reds hitters are very good with the exception of Edwin Encarnacion and Norris Hopper, both of whom have hit him well.  He’s pretty much completely shut down Adam Dunn and Brandon Phillips.

As I noted in July, Arroyo killed the Cubs last year.  This year, he’s done well against them again, but has gotten little run support: he’s 0-2 in three starts with a 2.53 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 21 1/3 innings.  None of the Cubs hitters with significant track records against him have really inspiring lines (i.e., OPS>1.000), but Ryan Theriot and Cliff Floyd have hit him pretty well.  This looks to be a pitchers’ duel, which makes me very nervous.  I’ll predict a Reds win.

Tuesday Night: Carlos Zambrano vs. Aaron Harang

Z will be pitching on three days’ rest, which I, for one, think is a mistake.  Perhaps Lou is just trying to switch something up so Z will pitch better against the Reds: in four starts this year, he’s 1-3 with a 6.56 ERA against them.  Even more disturbing, he’s only managed to strike out 10 in 23 1/3 innings.  For whatever reason, the Reds kill Z.  Which Reds?  Well, pretty much all of them.

Luckily, Aaron Harang has been almost as bad against the Cubs.  He’s 2-1 in four starts against the Cubs this year, but he sports a 5.68 ERA and has given up five homers in 19 innings.  Derrek Lee, Jacque Jones (!), and Matt Murton (!!) really hammer him, so let’s hope they have their hitting shoes on tomorrow night.  I’m going to predict a Cubs win.  Z appears to be “back,” and he easily beat the Reds this year during his good stretch.

Wednesday Night: Ted Lilly vs. Tom Shearn

Lilly has made three starts against the Reds this year.  The first two, both in April, were excellent; the last, in August, was not.  I’m not optimistic about his chances of repeating his early year success against the Reds on three days’ rest.

Shearn is a 30-year-old rookie who will be making his fifth career start.  He has never pitched against the Cubs.  This is bad.  Reds win, I think.

Like many series lately, this series doesn’t feature any glaring pitching mismatches.  The first game features two good pitchers who have pitched well against the other team this year, the second features two aces (one on three days’ rest) who have struggled against the other team this year, and the third features a good pitcher on three days’ rest versus an unknown.  Anything could happen in any game; the Cubs could sweep as easily as they could get swept.  Luck will play a huge role.  The pessimist in me says “Reds win two of three,” and that’s sort of what I expect to happen, given how the Reds have played the Cubs this year.

The Cubs will have an off-day Thursday, so they can start Marquis on Friday, Hill on normal rest Saturday, and Zambrano on normal rest Sunday against the Pirates.  With all due respect to my friend Ian, the city of Pittsburgh, and the Pirates, the Cubs need to win 2 of 3 at the least from the Pirates, who are not good.

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